‘The Bridge,” the first song on Kingsley Flood’s new album, is about a structure the band’s frontman knows well. But it’s also a ready-made metaphor for a nation that singer-songwriter Naseem Khuri sees divided by race, class and ethnicity.
The bridge is actually an overpass that separates Brookline, an affluent suburb, from Boston’s Mission Hill. Growing up in the ’burbs, Khuri was told that the people in the latter neighborhood were, as he recounts in the song, “a little too black, a little too poor.”
When he finally crossed the overpass, he recalls, “I was blown away by how not a big deal it was.”
Boston is a big part of Khuri’s life, in part because it’s where Kingsley Flood began in 2008. But the next year the musician moved to Washington. Of the quintet’s other members, bassist Nick Balkin, guitarist George Hall and drummer Travis Richter still live in the Boston area, while keyboardist-trumpeter Chris Barrett is based in Connecticut.
The album, the band’s fourth, is named for “Another Other,” a song that touches on Khuri’s identity as the child of Palestinian refugees who emigrated to the United States from Lebanon.
“I don’t think I fit neatly into a box,” he says, sipping beer in a Mount Pleasant bar. “I grew up with privilege. I grew up in a really nice town. At the same time, I couldn’t completely feel part of that world because I was this ‘other,’ by virtue of my background.”
Khuri considers himself a storyteller, and his earlier songs weren’t autobiographical. “This album is the first time that I’ve written from mostly my own point of view,” he notes. “This is the first time when I wanted to turn the mirror on myself.
“I am always straddling these lines. And I think that’s a very American thing,” he adds. “To live in ambiguity. To be a hyphen.”
Kingsley Flood’s music is a different kind of hyphenate: It combines folk, rock, country and occasional blasts of spiky guitar into a blend that some call “Americana.” That categorization partly reflects the contributions of two female singer-violinists, neither of whom is now in the lineup.
Synthesizer and guitar are substituting for the violin, and higher vocal ranges for the soprano vocals. “It’s a lot of fun. It means we’re challenging ourselves more,” Khuri says. “And it gives me a lot more space onstage to run around.”
While the group is known for energetic live shows, Khuri began as a bedroom troubadour. It was the band’s bassist, then the singer’s roommate, who encouraged him. “I didn’t have that much confidence in my 20s,” recalls Khuri, who’s now 37. “I’d been writing songs since I was 18, and never really played them live. Nick brought me out of my shell, when I was 28, 29.”
The band’s name began with the singer’s love for the word “flood.” “I just like the biblical connotations of it,” he says. “There’s this reckoning. Flood comes through; we reassess our lives. Kingsley was the name of a street I lived on in Boston. And I’m also a huge Springsteen fan, and the legend is that Springsteen used to race cars on a street named Kingsley Ave.”
That influence is evident on the album, but Khuri says he was also inspired by the Clash and country music. “I never saw a huge difference between Springsteen and Bob Dylan and Joe Strummer. And Waylon Jennings,” he says. “All had that common thread of important, topical ideas.”
The band’s members all have day jobs, which Khuri says is not ideal. Yet, it has advantages: “It can be weirdly, and counterintuitively, liberating. In the sense that you’re not a slave to the road. We’ve seen a lot of band friends burn out because they had to play every single night all the time.”
Instead, Kingsley Flood performs at most a few times a month, mostly in Boston, Washington and a few cities in between. “My favorite shows are in D.C. because there’s this energy that we don’t really feel in other places,” the singer says.
Khuri’s nonmusical work is as a consultant in conflict and negotiation. “I actually see a lot of similarities between that and the band,” he says. “I’m trying to connect with people, to think about our relationships, to think about how we’re getting along and how we’re communicating with each other.”
He can even take his day-job lessons onstage for one of the band’s performances. “I got into the band in the first place because I wanted a deeper connection with people. You don’t feel it any more strongly than when you’re sweating your face off on a stage, singing to someone two feet away. That to me is the epitome of human connection.”
With Fellow Creatures and Louis Weeks on Saturday at Rock & Roll Hotel. Show starts at 8 p.m. 202-388-7625. rockandrollhoteldc.com. $15.